While I would like to take some credit for this growth since I’ve frequently expounded on the benefits of SaaS, the growth has been across the board, a reflection of widespread adoption across all professions and industries. The evolution to the hosted model has taken a big step, moving beyond the early adopters, and into the realm of the mainstream. And this provides additional benefits to users, as the more mature offerings on the market will be joined by more and more competitors.
What Web 2.0 and SaaS Mean for You & Your Clients
For tax and accounting professionals, the promise held by hosted programs and collaborative Web 2.0 websites means, once again, less time keeping up with program updates and instant access to programs and data from anywhere. The primary reason more of these professionals haven’t moved to such programs en masse is because there were seemingly only a few options, leaving devotees of particular programs to remain with their standard applications. And while some of these programs now offer remote access add-on functions which allow for some added benefits, they are not hosted applications.
There are, however, several fully-hosted applications out there for both client service functions and internal management, from professional tax compliance systems like GoSystem from Thomson Reuters, and OrangeDoor Pro, to professional accounting/write-up systems such as Accounting Relief AC from AccountantsWorld. Professional firms can also achieve greater productivity through web-based applications for workflow processes from SurePrep and Copanion. Web 2.0’s offerings include the TaxAlmanac.org wiki, where professionals across the country collaborate to build an extensive tax knowledge encyclopedia.
The ASP model also fits into the SaaS model in a fashion, allowing firms to use programs online on a subscription basis, even though the programs aren’t offered in that way from the technology vendor. One such example is Insynq, which can host and manage a variety of professional accounting programs.
Web 2.0 and SaaS are also proving beneficial to small businesses and their relationship with their accountant. The giant in the room is still QuickBooks with its online version, but it has been joined by other capable online small business management systems from NetBooks, Clarity Accounting and ClearBooks. The Accounting Relief AC system noted previously for use by accountants also offers a small business portal into the system, allowing these users to have access to only their data, but letting the accountant retain full control over their books and have real-time access to the data at all times. And NetSuite and Intacct have been offering client-side SaaS accounting systems for more than 10 years, with more extensive ERP, CRM and financial management features for mid-sized and growing companies.
Also noteworthy are tools that either add-on to an existing program, providing web-based features that enhance usability, as well as web-based utilities that focus on specific areas. The SmartVault system is an excellent example of the first, allowing users to easily scan and attach invoices and other documents to their QuickBooks transactions, with the documents stored online and accessible remotely by their accountant. Likewise, Bill.com exemplifies the second, taking many of the headaches out of managing payables by providing a system through which small businesses scan bills, which are then fully managed and paid by Bill.com.
It’s So Easy, You’re Already Doing It
While you may not think about the terminology or technology behind the programs that you and your clients use every day, you are almost certainly already using many hosted applications and Web 2.0 websites. Whether that means you’re using any of the technologies I’ve noted in this article, or other advanced collaborative tools like Microsoft’s Groove and GoogleDocs. Or perhaps web-based research, backup utilities and social networking websites. Even portals, which when used in conjunction with a firm’s website, extend the benefits of Web 2.0 to the site, allowing clients and firm staff to share documents and work more collaboratively.